Friday, October 29, 2010

Open Europe press summary: 29 October 2010


Merkel wins backing for "limited" change to Lisbon Treaty;
Spiegel: "Europe comes up against the Iron Chancellor"
EU leaders have agreed in principle to "limited" changes to the EU treaties in order to create a permanent crisis mechanism for the eurozone, which Germany has demanded should allow eurozone countries to default and force creditors to share the cost of any future crises. Deutsche Welle quotes German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying, "Everyone is in agreement that a limited change to the Lisbon Treaty is necessary." She added, "I can talk for Germany when I say that we have very much pushed our main intentions forward."

Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy had also called for the suspension of voting rights of members who flout budget rules, which was unpopular with several smaller states and seems to have now been dropped. "If treaty change is to reduce the rights of member states on voting, I find it unacceptable, and, frankly speaking, it is not realistic," European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said.

Il Corriere della Sera notes that EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy has been given a mandate to "explore" possible options for Treaty change. He will present a report at the next European Council in December. Die Welt suggests that Merkel is seeking to extend the treaty clause, which allows financial assistance to be granted to member states as a result of "natural disasters", to include a provision for when the stability of the eurozone is threatened.

Le Figaro suggests that the changes could be adopted through the Lisbon Treaty's "simplified procedure", meaning that the amendments would be adopted by unanimity within the European Council bypassing the ratification process through national parliaments or potential referendums. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt is quoted by Deutsche Welle saying, "Many countries do not want a huge treaty reform, and therefore we are trying to narrow it down to a very limited treaty change that should be acceptable for countries without having to face referendums."

On his BBC blog, Gavin Hewitt argues, "[David Cameron] is instinctively opposed to treaty change for another reason. Some of his backbenchers may see it as an opportunity to try and claw back some powers to London." However, Die Welt reported last night that Cameron agreed to back the treaty changes in return for Chancellor Merkel's support for capping next year's EU budget increase at 2.9%. On Conservative Home, Open Europe's Director Mats Persson argues, "If true, Cameron may well have severely underplayed the UK's hand, missing the opportunity to get real concessions in return for treaty change. A one-year 2.9% as opposed to 5.9% budget increase, though important in face of budget cuts at home, is pocket change in comparison to what Cameron could have achieved."

Speaking on the BBC's Today Programme, Foreign Secretary William Hague said that Cameron had "secured beyond any doubt a full British opt-out from possible sanctions on individual member states and established that any possible future Treaty change would not affect the UK."

Meanwhile, the German press has declared victory for Merkel in Brussels. Spiegel reports that "Europe comes up against the Iron Chancellor", Die Welt states that "Merkel asserts her will in Brussels" and FT Deutschland declares, "Merkel wins at Euro-Poker".

Cameron gives up on EU budget freeze;
11 countries vow to cap increase at 2.9%
David Cameron last night gave up on his attempt to achieve a cash freeze to the 2011 EU budget. He instead reached a compromise, convincing 10 other EU leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to sign a letter stating that national governments would not accept an increase to next year's EU budget above 2.9%. The 11 countries provide a 'blocking minority' in negotiations with the European Parliament, which wants a 6% increase. However, a 2.9% increase would mean a rise in the UK's contribution to the EU by at least £432 million next year.

The Mail reports on a poll conducted by Comres revealing that 73% of Britons do not believe the EU contribution is value for money. Open Europe's Mats Persson appeared on Sky News yesterday criticising EU expenditure noting that "if you look at the errors in the EU budget on the structural funds for instance [...] 11% of the funding paid out to member states should not have been paid out in the first place, according to the European Court of Auditors [...] That is not pocket change."

The Times reports that, according to a diplomat, President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek yesterday accused Cameron of being "anti-European" for calling for a budget freeze. In response, Merkel said: "I have just had to cut the German budget and that does not make me anti-German."

News of Cameron's agreement attracted strong criticism from former Party Chairman Lord Tebbit and a group of predominantly Conservative backbenchers. Cameron's concession could be a "ticking timebomb of Tory fury", according to the Times. British Foreign Secretary William Hague responded to the criticism saying that Cameron secured "an unprecedented agreement by establishing the principle that the EU budget should in future reflect the spending cuts being made by national governments."

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has revealed that, at an official lunch ahead of the EU summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding had "insulted France as a nation" when she dismissed Franco-German demands for Treaty change as "irresponsible", AFP reports.

Political analyst Giorgos Kirtsos is quoted by Le Figaro reacting to yesterday's announcements that the estimates on Greece's public deficit will be reviewed up to 15% from 13.6%. "It is impossible to pay back the €110 billion borrowed from the EU and the IMF in only three years. We will have to restructure our debt", he argues.

House of Commons Library: Up to half of British laws come from Brussels
The Telegraph reports that new research conducted by the House of Commons Library has shown that the UK Parliament adopted last year 3,050 new laws related in some way to the EU - 53% of the total passed. However, the study specifies that only some of the laws have a direct impact on the "daily lives of citizens or businesses", while others do not. Open Europe's Director Mats Persson is quoted arguing: "Our research, based on the Government's own figures, shows that in 2009 59% of the regulatory costs facing individuals, businesses and the public sector in the UK stemmed from EU legislation. This is a far more useful measure than merely counting individual laws without any sense of their relative importance - and it shows that the EU now has a massive impact on the UK."

Two articles in the Mail cite Open Europe's report on EU quangos, noting that costs have tripled since 2005 and are due to reach £2.1 billion in 2011. Open Europe is quoted saying: "Several agencies simply duplicate the work of each other, in addition to duplicating the work of the core EU institutions and member states' organisations. Some of these bodies have no real impact on actual decisions while others deal with issues which are better handled nationally or regionally."

MEPs endorse £783,000-a-year "heritage label" for historical sites and monuments
The Telegraph reports that the European Parliament's Culture Committee yesterday gave its backing to proposals for the introduction of a "European heritage label" to mark sites and monuments which "have played a key role in the history and/or the building of the EU." An annual budget of £783,000 over six years has been earmarked for the project, meaning a total cost to UK taxpayers of almost £640,000. Conservative MEP Syed Kamall is quoted saying: "The UK is right to indicate its disinterest in this vain attempt to force a common European identity. If the EU insists on going ahead with this unnecessary idea, it should be at no additional cost to the British taxpayer." 

In a comment piece, FT Deutschland editor Sarah Speicher-Utsch writes that, three years after its implementation, the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive has failed to achieve its goals. "Investment banks are the ones that profit most from the alleged grand-directive. The private investors have benefited less from the new regulations", she argues.

In an interview with Le Monde, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has said that the French government "remains under surveillance" on its expulsions of Roma people. 
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An article in the Times notes that, in a bizarre twist of fate, the headquarters of the new European External Action Service will be located in the "Hague" wing of the Triangle building in Brussels. The EEAS headquarters will occupy almost all of the 60,000sqm office space, at an annual cost of €12 million.

De Telegraaf reports that Dutch Asylum Minister Gerd Leers has said that the Netherlands could close its borders for seasonal workers coming from outside the EU, if the new government is not satisfied with new EU rules on the issue.

La Repubblica reports that Italy is at risk of fines from the European Commission for failing to comply with a 2004 ruling from the European Court of Justice regarding the clearance of three landfill sites in the neighbourhood of Milan. 

According to the European Commission's statistics office Eurostat, unemployment rate in the eurozone was 10.1% in September.

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